Tesco Store Goes Without Cashiers

Discussion
Oct 23, 2009
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Tesco has opened one of its Express convenience
stores in England but with one significant difference. The store in Kingsley,
Northampton is the first of its kind to run a test with five checkouts and
no cashiers. All checkouts in the store are self-serve with one attendant on
hand to assist shoppers who may have some trouble checking-out themselves.

As a Daily Mail piece points out, there
is concern among some that, should entirely self-checkout stores work, thousands
of retail workers could find themselves out of jobs.

Tesco says it has not received any negative
feedback about the new store. A company spokesperson told the Mail, “‘Customers
like the fact there are always five checkouts available. Before you could
have four manned checkouts but only one person working the till. It’s a lot
quicker but some people have never used them before so a member of staff
is there to assist. If needs be there can be five members of staff assisting
customers.”

A spokesperson for Wal-Mart’s Asda division,
told the Mail, “Hell would
probably freeze over before we had a store with no customer interaction at
all on the checkouts. Many of our customers shop with us because they recognize
Bill on checkout 10 and will go to the same person every week. You get to
have a bit of a chat and some human interaction and that’s very important
for a lot of people.”

Richard Dodd of the British Retail Consortium
said, “In the far distant future who knows what technology will make possible?
We could well see the end of staffed checkouts forever. Customers are interested
in how quickly they can pay for their goods and get out and retailers are
constantly focused on improving that.”

Tesco has stressed that the store is a test
and it does not have any immediate plans to roll out the concept to its other
stores in the U.K.

Discussion
Questions: Have manned checkouts become a competitive liability in
today’s market? Will we eventually see an end to manned checkouts? What
companies in the U.S. do you think would be the most likely candidates
to go this route?

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16 Comments on "Tesco Store Goes Without Cashiers"


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Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
11 years 6 months ago

Never mind the end of the cashier….

What we will soon see is the end of checkouts of any kind. Metro’s future store essentially allows shoppers to fill the cart and walk out–no waiting, no scanning, no nothing. Inventory control is done via RFID and payment is completely wireless. I give it 10-15 years before checkouts in stores are essentially a thing of the past.

David Dorf
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

I recall when airlines did the same. It was painful at first, but as travelers learned to use the system it got easier, and now I think it’s much more efficient. Of course, this approach is only applicable to certain formats, like convenience. An attendant will always be necessary to help those less tech-savvy, or check IDs for age verification, or just to answer questions. I don’t think we’re ready yet for a widespread rollout, but the time is right to experiment.

David Livingston
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

I don’t think we will be moving in that direction in the US. Tesco should have learned from their failed Fresh & Easy venture that self checkouts are not popular. Its OK to have a few but when all the checkouts are unmanned, it appears to be a disaster. I was at a Fresh & Easy store this week and witnessed the bottleneck of problems as a store employee kept running from checkout to checkout to help solve problems.

Typically, self checkouts work best with retailers that have a low standard of labor. If you risk offending a customer by them having personal contact with one of your employees, then self-checkout is for you. If your employees and cashiers are one of your assets, then by all means you want the customer to have contact with them.

Usually at a typical supermarket, I don’t see much of a line at the self checkout which tells me they are not very popular.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
11 years 6 months ago

I’m sticking to my guns on my opinions of self checkouts. If a retailer has a proper exit strategy for the customer, that cashier should be selling more stuff to the customer. I’m hearing mumblings from some of my informants in the field that these things are actually causing shrink. Nobody wants to admit it because they are really expensive but I’m thinking that career bandits are making a ton of scores off stores that have self-serve checkouts. I was just at a self-serve checkout at Lowe’s and there was no attendant, there wasn’t even a cashier at the regular checkout. I could have walked out with my Scotts Wintercare and Scotts Broadcast Spreader with no trouble. C’mon guys, the cashier is the final important piece of the puzzle. Grow your basket, don’t give your customers an opportunity to create loss for you. I would love to see Tesco’s shrink numbers for this location.

Warren Thayer
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

It’s premature to even speculate as to whether other stores are at a competitive disadvantage for having staffed checkouts. This looks like a test, and we’d have to see how it works in terms of customer satisfaction, cost, comparative profitability, etc.

My hope is that it doesn’t work. That’s only because I think there’s too little human interaction as it is, and it seems to be getting worse all the time with people tweeting, texting and doing anything but looking another person in the eye and talking. In the early 60s, I was a supermarket cashier and always had a line at “my register” because I made friends with the customers and people liked to come in and talk to me, swap jokes, etc. Boy, are those days ever gone!

Kenneth Allan
Guest
Kenneth Allan
11 years 6 months ago

I have yet to see a self-checkout system at any store that actually works. I NEVER use them now, and the times I’d tried them, it was a total joke.

Just like living day to day carries unavoidable expenses, so is the cost having live cashiers.

Roy White
Guest
Roy White
11 years 6 months ago

Contrary to other comments, I think the staff-less checkout has been successful for Fresh & Easy, and their managers stand ready to help. Anecdotal evidence only, I admit, but even in high-volume units, it seems to work. Labor costs along with the growing sophistication of the American public relative to technology, will force the issue of moving toward more self-checkout and few staffed lines. You can’t buy an airline or train ticket, among other things, by dealing with a person, and supermarkets, especially smaller units, will go the same way. It may not be the most appealing world, but it appears inevitable.

Herb Sorensen
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

Having toured (again) several Fresh & Easy stores this week, I was surprised to see this growing chain characterized as a “failure.” Self-checkout is the sole option in these stores, and probably more of a positive asset than a negative liability. Marketside is using “bank” style queues to attempt to address what is often a major liability for stores: waiting in a checkout line.

Shilpa Rao
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

Well yes, we see the industry moving towards self checkouts, not just self-checkout machines at the exit, but things of the future like RFID-enabled checkouts (like in metro future store), mobile-POS-enabled checkout (an unmanned version of the mobile checkout at Apple Stores) and cell phone checkouts. This is what I recently saw in our labs.

There is no doubt that customers would like to pay and exit as fast as they can, however, the personal touch of a friendly cashier is lost somewhere. Retailers need to explore ways to make customers feel more comfortable and add that personal touch in the gadget world.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

In the c-store industry there was a lot of interest on the part of kiosk providers to install self-check, but it went nowhere. Today, the industry has at least one chain testing the concept.

Given that labor is the largest expense the industry has, I expect more chains will test the concept. As noted in some of the comments above, one of the issues is age-sensitive sales–namely, tobacco and beer. With those two comprising a significant portion of c-store sales, I expect that the industry will move forward very carefully as not to jeopardize those sales and profits.

Robert Straub
Guest
Robert Straub
11 years 6 months ago

I’m always surprised at the number of negative comments toward self checkouts on RetailWire. I use self checkout at a variety of retailers several times a week and find it to be quick, easy, and efficient. In fact, I often bypass my closest grocer–Safeway–simply because they don’t offer self checkout.

Mark Johnson
Guest
Mark Johnson
11 years 6 months ago

Many of the large grocers in the US are using their behavioral databases to guide POS interaction. Although it would be nice to not have to deal with some of the less educated individuals, yet when I see certain people that I have a bond with, it is nice to interact with them. Also, my kids LOVE talking to them and getting the free stickers.

Paul R. Schottmiller
Guest
Paul R. Schottmiller
11 years 6 months ago

Two main reasons this trend will accelerate in a majority of retail formats: first, accuracy, speed, and ease are what customers care about relative to checkout and the technology is getting to the point where it compares favorably to associate-assisted checkout. Even if the actual checking out process is slower, having more lanes with shorter lines, especially at peak times, will drive traffic into these lanes.

Second is that the opportunity to reduce labor cost per store is too big of a lever for the retailer to resist, especially during difficult economic times.

While the technology is still not perfected, and there will be a vocal minority decrying the loss of the human interaction, we will see this trend accelerate and both retailers and customers will adapt.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

People go to (a division of) Walmart for human interaction… who’d have thought?

Anyway, I think we’ll see a growth of self-checking but it will never entirely supplant (human) checkers: as many have pointed out, SC is fine for short/simple transactions, but for those cart-busting marathons, there would be too much delay and risk of shortage. (And I would interpret a lack of line at self-checks as a sign of efficiency, not unpopularity.)

Mel Kleiman
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

The only three negatives to self checkout are theft, someone who is purchasing a large number of items, and people like me who do not want a trainee as a checker.

On the positive side, I don’t have to deal with people who don’t even say thank you, more lanes available, lower labor cost and–maybe different than anyone else’s opinion–better customer service because of fewer employees. The smart company is going to hire better people and pay more for those who interact with the customers.

Rick Boretsky
Guest
Rick Boretsky
11 years 6 months ago

It’s hard to see the negatives with self-checkout. Would you still prefer to check-in at the airport in long lines through an agent? Or just simply use a kiosk, smartphone or internet to check-in and drop off your bag? If the technology or process for self-checkout has not been perfected yet, well that’s a different discussion, but to think it’s a bad idea seems contrary to all the advancements we have seen with so many self-assisted services, e.g. travel, parking lots, music downloads and online shopping. The personal touch is great where it’s needed but if it’s not needed, it’ a waste of cost and time as long as providing service and assistance is made a top priority.

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